Year of the Rat at The Asian Art Museum

Now, with 4705 and the Year of the Rat in full swing, San Francisco's grand Asian Art Museum is offering some exceptional exhibits. Beginning this week, the Civic Center building will feature “Drama & Desire” and “On Gold Mountain,” the former including some “adults only” examples of “shunga” erotic art.

From Friday through May 4, the two shows will be the jewels in the crown, adding luster to of The Asian's huge collection, with thousands of precious objects filling almost 30,000 square feet on three levels. (A tip: take the escalator to the top, and start with the South Asia and Persian World exhibits on the thirdfloor; if you begin from the ground floor, you may well be pooped out by the time of reaching there.)

The full title of “Drama & Desire” is “Japanese Paintings from the Floating World, 1690-1850.” These are “superb Edo-period paintings from the unrivaled collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston,” says Asian Art Museum Interim Director Mark McLoughlin. “Most have not been on public view in more than 100 years, and the Asian will serve as the last opportunity to view them before they go back under lock and key.”

With the retirement of Emily Sano, who was at the head of the museum for the past 12 years, McLoughlin is now in charge, while an international search is being conducted for a permanent director.

The “adult” reference is to exhibited portions of “Collection of Suggestive Pictures,” by Katsukawa Shuncho, an artist active in the late 18th century (for a startlingly short period of two decades in a country of longevity, especially of artists). While not quite in the X-rated category, these paintings are, well, “suggestive” enough.

McLoughlin is also proud of “On Gold Mountain: Sculptures from the Sierra by Zhan Wang,” which offers a personal take on the Chinese immigrant experience. “His cityscape of San Francisco made up of pots and pans has to be seen to be believed,” says the director.

Visitors to the de Young Museum will easily recognize Zhan Wang's work from the “crumpled metal” statue in the garden. The artist's stainless steel sculptures made from craggy boulders in China have been increasingly recognized in his own country as well as in the U.S. In this show, Zhan Wang's cloud-like, phantasmagorical shapes have been formed from Sierra Nevada rocks — stainless steel versions and actual rocks displayed side by side.

Further down the road, June will bring a unique show to The Asian, “Court Arts of the Ming Dynasty.”

IF YOU GO

Asian Art Museum

Where: 200 Larkin St., San Francisco

When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, except until 9 p.m. Thursday; closed Monday

Tickets: $7 to $12

Contact: (415) 581-3500 or www.asianart.org

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